Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo are both known for their mercurial play. Cutler's strong arm and mobility can frustrate defenses -- almost as much as the polarizing quarterback can frustrate his own coaches, teammates and fans with the poor decisions he makes when pressing. Romo also plays the roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde well, looking like a Pro Bowl-quality signal-caller one minute and throwing head-scratching passes into double coverage the next.
Monday night's Bears-Cowboys matchup is shaping up to be a defensive battle. Whichever quarterback comes out with the "good" version of his game will give his team the advantage. But neither Cutler nor Romo can do it alone -- they'll also need their teammates to redouble their efforts in order to pull out a victory.
1. Offensive balance is the Bears' Forte
Chicago's offense is clearly different when running back Matt Forte is on the field, and it sounds as though he could return from a right ankle injury for this prime-time contest. Forte recorded 80 total yards as a rushing and receiving threat in a Week 2 defeat against the Green Bay Packers; until he exited with the injury in the third quarter, the Packers hadn't come up with a way to stop him. Without Forte in Week 3, the Bears' offense looked very ordinary (Chicago ranks 27th in the league in total yardage going into Monday night's game). Running back Michael Bush can get tough yards on the ground, but Forte can be both a bull between the tackles and a dangerous receiving weapon out of the backfield. The Bears will need Forte's offensive duality, especially considering the way the Cowboys' cornerbacks will work over the Bears' outside receivers down the field (see below). Forte must be a reliable underneath target, helping Cutler consistently move the chains.
2. The last quarterback standing wins?
Neither offensive line in this game has been exactly a wall of stone this season, but whichever unit manages to consistently protect its passer could prove to be the ultimate key to this game. Chicago's defense ranks third in the NFL with 14 sacks (tied with the Packers), while Dallas has linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who is already credited with four sacks this season. If Cutler and Romo hold on to the ball while waiting for deep routes to open up, both quarterbacks will be running for their lives. The Cowboys' best offensive lineman, left tackle Tyron Smith, is set to face the Bears' toughest defensive challenge in Julius Peppers. Don't be surprised if Peppers moves around the line a bit, however, even playing inside with Henry Melton (who leads the Bears with three sacks) to test Cowboys guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. Chicago left tackle J'Marcus Webb, meanwhile, has all of the physical tools to handle Ware, but he'll need to show more consistency in his technique and increased patience to stave off the All-Pro -- and his quarterback's infamous ire.
3. Physical play won't be limited to the trenches
The recently returned veteran officials will, no doubt, have some decisions to make Monday night regarding how much downfield contact to allow, because two large, physical cornerbacks (Dallas' Brandon Carr and Chicago's Charles Tillman) are set to face two larger, equally physical receivers (the Bears' Brandon Marshall and the Cowboys' Dez Bryant). Chicago general manager Phil Emery traded two third-round draft picks for Marshall in the offseason to bring a physical presence that the team has lacked. Jerry Jones, meanwhile, signed Carr to a fat deal so that he could take on receivers like Marshall on the outside. We'll see which investment pays off in this matchup. By the way, the other starting corners, Chicago's Tim Jennings and Dallas' Morris Claiborne, are no slouches, either. Jennings will attack whomever he's lined up against, despite his 5-foot-8, 185-pound frame (teams who run quick screens to his side do so at their own peril). Meanwhile, the rookie Claiborne is as sticky as it gets outside. As these tough, mano-a-mano battles rage, big plays are still likely to develop on the outside -- but whether they'll come courtesy of the offensive or defensive stars remains to be seen.
It's tough to imagine either squad scoring more than 20 points without the help of defense or special teams. These two strong defenses and inconsistent offenses will feel each other out in the first half; another Monday night game will come down to the wire, but ultimately, Jones will happily watch his team pull one out under The Screen.
Dallas 17, Chicago 14
Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter.